The God Who Kneels – Day 26

Psalm 41

“But this is to fulfill the passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread

has lifted up his heel against me.’” John 13:18


The gospel narrative demonstrates how Jesus processed this internal crisis. From the dialogue an implicit model of spiritual direction emerges that is important for us to emulate. Jesus gained perspective by lining up Psalm 41 with his experience of Judas. Jesus prayed the Psalms daily and these prayers informed his self-understanding. The Psalms provided the emotional grid through which he interpreted life. Psalm 41 gave prophetic insight and providential sanction to an otherwise unpredictable and perverse turn of events.

Psalm 41 is a psalm of deliverance in the face of the harsh realities of human hate. The Lord watches over the weak and delivers them. He protects, preserves and sustains them. What makes this psalm especially interesting is the distinction made between the hatred of overt enemies and the betrayal of a close friend. Two metaphors are juxtaposed to capture the hostility of a friend: “He who shared my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” To break bread together is a metaphor for intimate fellowship. To lift up the heel against someone is a metaphor for contempt and deep animosity, especially in a Middle-Eastern culture.

A scene in the old TV series, The West Wing, captures this deep animosity. President Jeb Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen, is alone in the National Cathedral. The funeral service for his administrative assistant, killed by a drunk driver, has just concluded. As the people leave, the President  asks to be left alone in the cathedral for a few minutes. In the darken sanctuary, an angry Bartlett, rails against God. He calls him “vindictive,” “a feckless thug.” He hurls epitaphs and expletives. Bartlett lights a cigarette and takes a single puff before he drops it to the floor. Defiantly, he grinds the butt with the sole his shoe. He turns toward the altar and says, “Go to hell.”  Throughout the series, the President is portrayed as a sincere Roman Catholic, but in this scene, Bartlett captures the spirit of Judas. The writers may have aimed for the despair of Job or the passion of Jeremiah, but what they got was Judas, a one-time friend turned traitor.

When Jesus lifted Judas’ heel to wash and dry his feet, we need not wonder what was going through his mind. This line from Psalm 41 filled Jesus’ praying imagination: “Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” But along with this thought was the enduring hope of God’s sustaining grace: “But may you have mercy on me, Lord; raise me up, that I may repay them. I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me” (Psalm 41:9-11).

The metaphor of bread is repeated four more times in the text. When the disciple whom Jesus loved (John’s endearing and self-effacing way of identifying himself), asked him to identify the betrayer, Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, Jesus dipped the bread in the dish and gave it to Judas. The gesture was such a common and positive sign of favor, not hostility, that no one at the time, including John, made the connection. Twice we are told that Judas took the bread. In a few hours, Judas will give Jesus a customary kiss in the garden (Mark 14:45). Both gestures were traditional signs of hospitality. At the table, Jesus used the passing of the bread to preserve Judas’ secret, but in the garden, Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss to identify him for the arresting party. In the upper room only Judas knew that Jesus knew what he was about to betray him.

“As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” The implication is that this genuine act of friendship, was the decisive moment at which Judas yielded fully to the Tempter’s agenda. The way in which Jesus exposed his betrayer gave Judas every possible way out. At the table he could have confessed his sin and turned to Jesus for forgiveness. But Judas pushed past the point of repentance and confession. He steeled his will against Jesus’ friendship and pursued a course of cold-hearted betrayal and his suicide.

Jesus gained perspective by praying the Psalms and by focusing on a theology of acceptance. The second aspect of Jesus’ spiritual resilience is apparent when we focus on verse 20: “Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.” Embedded in this dialogue is a simple sentence, said with emphasis, that establishes our shared confidence in our relational participation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus roots our fellowship with one another in our abiding acceptance of himself. Christ alone is the ground of our fellowship together. But Jesus goes even further. To accept him is to accept the one who sent him. There is an unbreakable relational connection between believing and belonging. To believe is to belong and to belong is to believe. Our friendship with one another is rooted in our acceptance of the Triune God.

Deep relationships are built on deep theology. This social networking is of the highest order and rests on the conviction Jesus stated earlier, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me. . .” (John 6:44). Our acceptance of one another is rooted in a theology of mission (“whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me”). We accept one another on God’s terms, not on our terms. And to be in fellowship with one another is to be sent by God. The relational stakes are both higher and more secure. Self-acceptance, friendship, and body-life are all inseparably linked to our relationship with the Triune God (“and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me”).



Upper Room Reflection

Can you think of a time when you used the Psalms to process a difficult situation?

Why are we tempted to blame God when the evil that God so hates impacts our lives?

In the face of betrayal, are you willing to draw on God’s provision for resilience? What is the alternative?

How God-centered are your relationships? Is that hard to assess?